Oh how I have waited for this day! A day when I can finally say that DC have made a damn near perfect movie, hell this one even rivals some of Marvel’s entries and that is not something I thought I would ever say. So rejoice fellow DC fans, Shazam has proven there’s still life in the old franchise yet.
The plot remains mostly true to the source material, a young boy who’s pure of heart, chosen by a strange magical recluse to save the world from all magical threats. It apparently never having occurred to this wizened old bastard to choose an adult, but let’s not tug on that particular thread. After a millennia long search and thousands of unworthy applicants the wizard Shazam chooses young Billy Batson to be his champion because although he does break the law, steals from his foster family and is kind of a jerk he did stick up for his paraplegic foster-brother. Hold the phone, are you telling me that out of the literal thousands of human beings throughout the ages none of them met the lofty standards of “not quite a complete arseshole”? Whatever, after seemingly being deemed worthy by a man who hasn’t left his cave in around 6000 years Billy heads out to protect mankind and embrace his destiny. I’m kidding; he starts almost immediately using his powers to make money.(Money which he uses to buy beer!)
What I loved most about the plot of Shazam is that it feels relatable. Not the whole magic and ancient evil thing but the way in which Billy uses his abilities at first, like 99% of us would, fucking about and making some cash. He doesn’t fight a race of God aliens, he doesn’t try and stem the tide of war between races, he shoots lightning out of his hands for cash and if there’s time stops a mugging. Of course he does eventually grow and embrace his gifts to help others but it is done organically throughout the story.
There are so many things that this movie has done right that it would be quicker just to say everything and leave it at that, but that would be “unprofessional” apparently, so let’s get to the praise.
First and foremost the acting was superb from the entire cast; each one of them seemed perfect for their respective roles, particular the adult and child versions of Billy. Zachary Levi as adult Billy/Shazam was just a joy to watch, he had this wonderful youthful energy that made you believe that he was a child in a man’s body. It would have been easy for a lesser actor to bungle this attempt and have it just come off as cringe worthy, but Levi was somehow able to make the admittedly ridiculous concept heart-warming yet hilarious.
While Levi was undoubtedly amazing as an older Billy, it was his younger counterpart Asher Angel that was left to deliver some of the more emotional scenes and by God does he manage that and then some. There is a heart-breaking scene late in the movie that showcases his talents as an actor, I won’t go into specifics as it’s a bit of a spoiler but what I can say is I could almost feel what the character was feeling. Every sentiment was conveyed beautifully by Angel, from his facial expressions to the way he uncomfortably shifted his posture, it was incredible acting.
Then we have the visuals, from the cinematography to the costume design everything looked gorgeous. I was worried that Aquaman was a fluke, but no, it honestly appears as if DC has finally learned that everything doesn’t have to look drab and dower, that realistic and fantastical are not mutually exclusive. Shazam proved that you can have a fun colourful character set against a real life backdrop without it becoming ridiculous.
I’d also like to take a minute to praise DC for something that I often berate them for, their universe building; they’re inconsistent at it to say the least. Constantly sacrificing minutes of screen time to setup the next movie or connect it to the previous one, while sacrificing pacing and story-telling. But Shazam proves that it can be done both subtly and well. Rather than have the character bang on about another hero, this movie has subtle nods to other heroes, like merchandise or references, allowing the world to feel much larger and allowing the viewer to invest accordingly.
But I think what I loved most about Shazam was that it was a great story wonderfully told. I think the reason many of the DCEU movies have failed is because certain besuited ballbags forget that superhero movies are a genre, just like Sci-Fi, western or action. You can’t just throw capes and cowls into it and expect it to do well, hello (tap’s mic) can you hear me Batman vs. Superman? Shazam, while obviously a superhero movie, never forgets to put story telling first, Big meets big muscles shouldn’t work but it does because at its core it’s a great story. And it’s a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, in fact it borders on self-aware at times. As if the movie knows that the idea of a superhero in red, white and gold is so ridiculously ostentatious that they might as well steer into it and have Shazam work part-time as a street performer.
And if that isn’t on the nose enough for you there is a fight sequence towards the end of the movie that has one of those terrible slow-mo scenes that we have come to dread from DC movies. But instead of the God awful Snyder-esq, dreck we’re used to, it has the hero bungle the fight, joining in on the joke rather than being the butt of it.
I cannot recommend this movie highly enough, never has a movie made me think about going back and retroactively changing previous review scores, while I won’t be going that far I will say that the bar is now much higher for all new comers. A wonderful story, filled with action, humour and no small amount of heart.